Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lots 'O Rangers news

Josh Hamilton wins the MVP award. Wow. I thought the fact that he only played in 133g might have played more of a factor but he won going away. How impressive is it that Josh won the ward despite only playing in 133g? Since the both leagues expanded to a 162 game schedule in 1962, only 13 position players have won the award playing fewer than 140 games, 5 NL MVPs and 8 AL MVPs. Joe Mauer (138g) was the first player from either league to do it in almost 15 years when he won last year. Who was the last player to do it before him? Juan Gonzalez won it in 1996 after only playing in 134 games. In fact, 4 of the 6 MVP awards given by both leagues between 1994-1996 seasons were awarded to players with less than 140 games. During the other 46 years, only 9 position players from both leagues won the MVP with fewer than 140 games. Very impressive accomplishment.

Texas hires Thad Bosley to replace Clint Hurdle as hitting coach. Bosley was a coach wit the Athletics for 5 years, 4 of them as the hitting coach, between 1999-2003. Texas liked him last year when he interviewed for the position, which is probably the reason for the quick hire. Washington was also on the Oakland staff during Bosley's stint there, so they know each other well it would seem. Bosley was coaching for a couple of small baseball programs over the last 3 years but I'm not sure what kept him out of MLB altogether during the last 7 years, especially after his success as Oakland's hitting coach.

Franky Francisco was offered arbitration today and TR Sullivan indicates (though what he says is not always reliable) that he is leaning toward accepting it. That would be good news in my opinion as having him return to a bullpen with the likes of Ogando, Feliz and Lowe would make for quite a dominant unit, and the #s would mitigate against the effects of losing Franky to injury. Losing him this year proved nearly catastrophic in the playoffs as we all know. Some have tossed around the idea that this is a sign that TX will move Feliz to the rotation. Nonsense (for 2011 at least).

Feliz is an elite closer right now, and there is no reason to believe that Ogando will be one next year given the way he performed last year or that Fx2 can remain healthy for a full season to merit a return to the closer role. Take these 4 arms into next season and you have an elite bullpen. Put Feliz into the rotation next year and what you have will be question marks both with the bulllpen and with the rotation. It normally takes a couple of years for a rookie starter to to begin having success at the ML level. In Feliz's case, he has had success in the pen already but hasn't started a game since early June of 2009. There is no reason to believe that Feliz is ready to start right now but more importantly there is no reason to believe that he can make a bigger impact as a struggling starter than as a dominant closer, a dominant closer on a world series team no less.

Cliff Lee was also offered ARB while both Molina and Guerrero were not. I'm not at all among those who oppose bringing Guerrero back on a 1 year deal as long as the other holes in the lineup are plugged. Catcher and DH are the obvious holes. The FA catchers worth noting have dwindled to Victor Martinez and to none at all after he got a monster contract today from Detroit (4/50m!). There are a # of DH candidates out there who could be had for a 1 year deal, who profile as more patient hitters than Vladdy. I would prefer one of those types of hitters but I am ok rolling with Vlad as long as he is not hitting cleanup anymore.

However, the Texas staff also need to make some important decisions about the outfield and first base. First, is Moreland good enough to be a full time first baseman or does he need a platoon partner? Texas did not start Moreland against any LHP during the regular season that wasn't an exigency so it would seem that TX does not have confidence in him to be a FT player. Washington does like to protect rookies however so it might be premature to conclude that Moreland is projected by the staff as a platoon hitter. Wash did choose to start him against elite lefties during the playoffs, though they were admittedly left with little choice after they elected to bench Cantu. So do we really know what the Texas coaches think about Moreland? Are they confident enough to roll with him without a platoon partner next year? They might not make a call on that until the end of ST.

Second, what to do with Julio Borbon and David Murphy? Texas needs a RHH outfielder like no one's business and it also needs a CF like Borbon to keep Hamilton in LF 90% of the time to help keep him healthy. I think the OF situation will be the toughest to address. My fear is that TX does nothing and plays Hamilton far too many games in CF in 2011. The cleanest solution is simply to trade for or sign RHH CF but the off-season FA frenzy rarely follows the rule of parsimony as we know.

My general stance on signing free agents, especially old ones, is to avoid doing it if at all possible. This is much easier to do if you have a strong farm system and a few young players on the 40 who can be used as trade pieces. In terms of strategies that are the best for both the acquisition of controllable young players as well as the long term financial health of the franchise, trading for talent almost always trumps signing free agents. Texas has a strong farm system but this strength lies only at the lower levels. Most trades to acquire an above average, young, controllable, major league player will have to include major league ready talent _at worst _ if not also players with major league experience.

If Texas is to pull off a trade for any above average player (an Ace, a #1 or #2 SP, a catcher, a center fielder, a first baseman), no team is really going to want a bunch of prospects who are 2-3 years away from making their debuts. Whoever thinks that you can throw in Craig Gentry and Leury Garcia in a package to get Zach Greinke is a fool. A team will expect players who will start now, during the year or 2012 at the latest. The players that TX would have to include given their lack of minor league depth at the upper levels of their systems would leave holes in their roster as they are all penciled in to fill prominent if not starting roles in 2011: Holland, Hunter, Ogando, Moreland, Borbon, Murphy, Harrison, Kirkman. The only players of interest in the high minors in this system would include: Scheppers, Martin Perez, F. Castillo, and Engle Beltre. Throw in players with major shortcomings might be: Teagarden, C. Davis, Strop, Omar Beltre.

So while I think that trading for players is the most sagacious way to fill roster needs both in the short and the long term, the weakness at the upper level of the TX farm system will make this more difficult. In addition, given that most of Texas' major league ready talent is already on the 40, any trades designed to upgrade the roster will also be painful because some of those players will have to be included in any trade, players who would have played a prominent role on the 2011 roster to begin with. So while upgrading one position, you create a hole in another or at least fill it with a less capable player and further depleting your depth.

Given the problems that Texas will confront in pulling off multiple trades for elite talent this off-season, I'm very interested to see what plan B will be, a version of which we might see in on only a couple more weeks - the winter meetings start December 6th. I expect that Texas will still find creative ways to fill their team needs without dolling out crazy FA contracts to over the hill players. The most likely scenario to unfold should they miss out on Cliff Lee will be to trade for a starter who might be a fringy #2/solid #3 starting pitcher capable of and reliable for 200 innings. It wouldn't surprise me if TX traded for a fringe-average catcher with AA catchability. Both moves would cost you some talent, but trading for a lower ceiling starter would allow you to throw in some more lower level but high ceiling prospects, the strength of Texas' minor league system.

So I guess if I had to make a prediction, I would say that TX will make the following moves by Jan1: Makes a failed bid for Lee; trades for a 2_3 starter and a fringe average catcher (both upgrades compared to last year's opening day roster); signs a free agent DH. I would imagine that any changes to the composition of the OF or the acquisition of a right-handed hitter will wait until the spring. One remote trade possibility would to acquire an above average RHH center fielder but those are pretty hard to find.


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